Orange County’s Of Mice & Men have been through a fair amount since their arrival on the metalcore scene in 2010; with the biggest turmoil coming in the form of original vocalist Austin Carlile leaving the band twice, this time seemingly for good. Come 2018 and the odds, seemingly, were not stacked in their favour, but instead it appears that this change has in fact had miniscule effect on the band. If anything OM&M are back and refocused; releasing the aptly-titled Defy - the first to feature bassist Aaron Pauley taking over both clean and screamed vocals.
Opener ‘Defy’ is an absolute rager with a riff designed to incite pits - in keeping with the band’s clearly-stated intention to write songs that can get the crowds going. Alongside the gargantuan riffs, Pauley’s cleans create memorable vocal hooks in contrast to his ability to roar like a man possessed. This combined with ‘Instincts’ mid-paced stomp and ripping guitar solo near the three minute mark create a compelling one-two punch to open the album and reassert them as one of metalcore’s most prominent acts.
That’s not to say the album lacks variety. For every breakdown, every neck-snapping riff, there’s mellower moments such as ‘Back to Me’ that despite opening with churning guitars is a much more slow-burning affair with Pauley crooning over sparse instrumentation before erupting into a monolithic chorus. This includes closer ‘If We Were Ghosts’ that the band state was written in the wake of the passing of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington, marking a significant change in sound. The song is very subdued, with acoustic guitars and piano in place of their usual crunching guitar and is shot through with emotion, raw vulnerability, and grief. The band also love to throw a curve-ball, with the midway point of the album being a soaring cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Money’ before returning to their scheduled programme of bludgeoning metalcore.
OM&M have always crafted vocal melodies designed to incite stadium-sized singalongs and Defy is no different at all, and as always balances these with breakdowns that slip from angelic cleans to brutal screams. It won’t appeal to everyone and in fact the band’s willingness to stick to the metalcore template of verse-chorus-verse-breakdown-chorus doesn’t do them any favours. Virtually every song on the album features some variation on the theme without straying too far from the trodden path apart from album closer ‘If We Were Ghosts’ which is one of the album’s strongest.
Despite the relative lack of experimentation in sound, the band are tight and deliver their brand of high-octane, emotive metalcore with conviction and serious songwriting chops, making Defy an incredibly strong return with no signs of the band slowing down any time soon. Defy, indeed.